KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (Robert Hamer, 1949)

“He seemed a very pleasant fellow, and I regretted that our acquaintanceship had to be so short.” — Louis Mazzini

Brilliantly written by its director, Robert Hamer, and John Dighton, Kind Hearts and Coronets is a piercingly funny consideration of upper-class British arrogance. The aristocratic D’Ascoynes family has disinherited one of their own because of her marriage to an Italian singer on two separate grounds: she has married beneath her station, that is, beneath the family dignity; she has—horrors!—married for love. After his widowed mother’s death, upon which occasion her dying request to be buried in the family grounds is denied, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price, priceless) embarks on a mission to avenge her mistreatment by dispatching each and every D’Ascoynes, all of whom stand between him and a dukedom. Between himself and serendipity he sees the job done but is tried and convicted (by the House of Lords) for a murder he did not commit. Facing the gallows the next morning, Louis spends the night penning his memoir, inducing (for us) a flashback suited to his voiceover.
     In Roy Horniman’s 1907 novel Israel Rank, it is a Jew whom the mother marries, but the Holocaust argued in 1949 for his replacement, even amidst Edwardian sets and garb. The black comedy’s unifying joke is that Louis, robbed of his birthright, mirrors the contumeliousness of those retaining the birthright. Why shouldn’t a man sniffle into his handkerchief if he must? Yet when Louis laments the indignity of taking in a lodger when his mother and he are financially strapped, this inadvertent audible punctuation by the lodger becomes hilarious. But it is Louis’s joke, not the lodger’s. Hamer draws us into Louis’s cracked perception of things. Perhaps Louis’s funniest line, though, simply indicates his Wildean wit. Louis tells the groom at a wedding, having spent the previous night making love with the bride: “You’re a lucky man, Lionel. Take my word for it.”
     Of course, the film is most famous for Alec Guinness (best actor, National Board of Review), who beautifully plays eight different D’Ascoyneses including a doddering clergyman, a private bank president, and a suffragette.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

MY BOOK, A Short Chronology of World Cinema, IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FROM THE SANDS FILMS CINEMA CLUB IN LONDON. USING EITHER OF THE LINKS BELOW, ACCESS THE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THIS BOOK, FROM WHICH YOU CAN ORDER ONE OR MORE COPIES OF IT. THANKS.

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